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How Speed Impacts the Outcome of a Crash

September 13, 2021

The higher the speed in a crash, the more severe the consequences typically are with regard to material damage and occupant injury. Multiple studies have shown a relationship between speed and crash risk, injury severity, and material damage. Although vehicles are safer now more than ever, the effectiveness of their built-in occupant protection equipment reduces as crash speed increases.

New Crash Test Findings

Crash tests were recently performed to examine the impact of speed increases. They were a collaborative effort by the AAA foundation, Humanetics Innovative Solutions, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Crashes were conducted at impact speeds of 40 mph, 50 mph, and 56 mph. The vehicles used in the tests were all 2010 Honda CR-V EX vehicles, which had received a top ranking in IIHS crash test ratings.

At the impact speed of 40mph, intrusion into the space surrounding the driver was minimal. At 50 mph, there was some deformation of the driver’s side door opening, foot area, and dashboard. At 56 mph, the car’s interior was compromised significantly. The dummy’s sensors registered serious neck injuries and the likelihood of fractures to the lower leg’s long bones.

At 50 mph and 56 mph, the steering wheel moved upward and led to the head of the test dummy going through the airbag and smashing into the steering wheel. The measurements from the dummy indicated a high risk of brain injury and facial fractures.

The test results showed the two impact speeds made the kinetic energy levels exceed the capacity that the car’s energy-absorbing structures could handle. The excess crash energy was transferred to the vehicle occupant compartment and increased the severity of the injuries in the dummies.

The increased impact speed at 50 mph and 56 mph represented an increase of 56% and 95% in kinetic energy, respectively, as compared to the 40 mph impact speed as well as a 59% and 78% risk of a severe or worse injury, respectively, as compared to the 15% risk at 40 mph. The driver’s likelihood of survival was lower at these two speeds than at the 40 mph impact speed.

Car accident lawyers handle many serious injury cases caused by speeding. Increases in speed degrade the occupant space even in vehicles with excellent crashworthiness designs and proportionally increase the driver’s risk for injury and fatality. With other factors remaining constant, an increased impact speed raises the occupant injury risk and causes more structural damage.

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